Trade associations are in big trouble

In a world of Web 2.0 communities where anyone can reach out and interact with anyone else, why would you seek out membership in a trade association?

Up until last year, my company was a member of 12 trade associations from coffee to soccer to event planning to wedding planners. I have since cancelled all my memberships except one and my business has not shrunk one bit. I have not ceased to know about the industries I am in and I spend more time networking using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and our blogs more than I ever did as a member of the trade associations.

In truth, I can’t point to one piece of business I secured as a result of being a member of a trade association nor any network contact that I did not actively seek out myself. Nor can I recall any piece of industry knowledge and research that I couldn’t find on Google.

But, I can tell you I have more money in the bank now that I am not paying association dues and advertising in the trade press at “reduced rates.” I am not going to trade association conferences as an exhibitor any more, but I still attend trade shows and conferences, either by buying a day pass, getting media credentials or volunteering to lead a workshop.

The railroad companies should own the airlines, but they don’t. Why? Because they thought they were in the railroad industry, not in the people and stuff transporting industry. Trade associations are acting the same way. For the most part, they are not using Web 2.0 tools because they believe they are in the “people networking” and conference industry, not in the tech world. They are confusing the tools with the industry they are in.

Trade associations are in the networking industry. Words like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Delicious, Digg, Alltop and blogs should roll off their tongues as easily as networking and sponsorship. But they don’t

Through their short-sightedness, trade associations have allowed an entire industry of “social networking experts” to crop up, leaving them wondering, “Why do we need trade shows? Why do we need a networking middle-man?”

Young college graduates have always been on Facebook, MySpace and now are joining LinkedIn as they think more about their careers than their social lives. They are reaching as to professionals on LinkedIn for mentorship and each other for career advice through sites like BranzenCareerist.com, bypassing the traditional trade groups such as SHRM, and AMA

For trade associations to survive and grow, they need to be the glue that connects people together. They need to be able to provide an answer to the question, “What does my trade association provide that I can’t find using Google?” And they need to do it quicker than I can type 140 characters into my Twitter.

Trade associations need to embrace and push tools like RSS, blogs, Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace. They need to push out content that is authoritative and readily available. They need to be there to recruit young college graduates where they communicate; on Facebook and blogs.

Without Web 2.0 tools, trade associations have no voice on the Internet, even if they have Web sites. Without a voice on the Internet, you are essentially silenced.